Celebrating the life of Colt Richter ’16

“Flying with Colt above glaciers and between mountain peaks, I understood how he fell in love with flying, and why he was so excited to share that with others.”

A simple wish from those who loved pilot, engineer, friend and colleague Colt Richter: “Fly high my friend.” Photo courtesy of the Richter family

Sam Parker ’15 wrote that about his late friend and classmate Colt Richter ’16. He added that Richter, who died this past July when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Alaska, relished service above all else and often refused to claim credit or recognition, “as his humility wouldn't allow it.”

Another close companion, MIT alumnus Dylan Soukup ’14, echoed such a sentiment, writing that Richter had “a love of helping others, a passion for selflessness” and a deep connection to the breathtaking natural beauty of his native state of Alaska. As a newly arrived first-year student, Richter said in an interview for MIT News that one of the things he anticipated missing most about his home was the view.

“I can look out my window and see mountains,” said Richter, who went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. “In Boston, it’s really, really flat.”

Judging by how he embraced his time on and around campus, Richter managed to adjust to the more linear landscape. He joined the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, sung in the Ohms a cappella group, and served as a volunteer emergency medical technician for MIT EMS. He served on MIT’s student-run ambulance service during all four of his years on campus, and as a junior he became the chief and built close ties to members of the MIT Police.

Richter also served as a student member of the Presidential Advisory Cabinet. MIT President L. Rafael Reif expressed fond memories, saying “Colt was one of the most exceptional students to serve.”

“He was thoughtful, warm, and wise, and he cared deeply about MIT's students,” President Reif said. “As we mourn Colt's tragic loss, we are grateful for the time he spent on our campus. He was a special young man, and he made all of MIT better and stronger.”

Richter had planned to put all of his MIT experiences to good use, as he had long expressed a dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. He had been accepted to medical school at the University of Washington and was due to start this past August. Richter spent the past two gap years flying commercially throughout Alaska.

His passion for aviation is hard to overstate. All of his friends commented that he was most comfortable in the air and made those with him equally so.

Richter received his pilot’s license at just 17, allowing him, said close friend and fellow aviation enthusiast Matt Guthmiller ’18, to “fly a wider variety of airplanes and in more diverse environments in 24 years than many pilots do in a lifetime.” Not surprisingly, he even taught a flying class at MIT.

Flying was a family affair too, as Richter’s father flew as did his grandfather, who was a fighter pilot in World War II prior to becoming a commercial airline pilot. When Richter was not in the air, he was exploring all the places travel could take him, enjoying hiking in the remote outdoors as well as fishing, skiing, or skydiving. 

As busy as he was — Guthmiller noted his classmate’s talent playing piano, guitar, and singing — Richter made finding time for others his greatest priority.

“He was the kind of person who, despite keeping extremely busy, was never too busy for friends or family,” Guthmiller said. “He cared deeply about the people around him, took care of them, had a tremendous amount of fun, and simply made you want to be a better person.”

Tom Troxel, a lifelong Alaskan friend who considered Richter a brother, conveyed the value his friend placed on family.

“We lived at each other’s houses and in the summers, we would sneak off to our cabins every chance we could. Whether we were debating constitutional law or getting up to no good at Big Lake, Colt always knew how to put a smile on my face and he always had a big grin spread across his,” Troxel said. “He was part of my family and I was part of his. After graduating from MIT, Colt came back to Alaska, partially so he could fly full-time but more importantly so he could spend more time with his dad and mom. I remember talking to him so many times since he moved back home about how important it was for him to be in Alaska with them — he loved Cathy and Rick so very much.”

In the words of his parents, Cathy and Rick Richter: “Colt was our only child and the perfect son to us. We miss him deeply and are so appreciative of the loving support we have received throughout this difficult time.”

Richter, at once grounded and in the clouds, carved out a path for others to follow. His parents noted that dozens of those who knew him whether near or far, did not hesitate to come to Alaska for the service and celebration of his life. For all of his talent, drive, and interests, a simple wish from those who loved him said it all: “Fly high my friend.”

A celebration of life event, led by MIT Reverend Kristin Boswell-Ford, will take place on campus on Nov. 16.

The Colt Richter (2016) Scholarship Fund has been established by Colt’s parents at MIT. Gifts may be made on-line using the following link: https://giving.mit.edu/colt-richter. Checks, payable to MIT, may be sent to: MIT Office of Memorial Gifts, 600 Memorial Drive Room W98-526, Cambridge MA 02139. Questions about gifts may be directed to Bonny Kellermann at 617-253-9722 or bonnyk@mit.edu.